Popular culture is obsessed with the '80s—Stranger Things, anyone?—and it's not hard to see why. The '80s were a golden decade in film, boasting classic movies that you've likely seen many times before even if you were a '90s or '00s baby. Dirty Dancing, Footloose, E.T...so many of our golden coming-of-age films were born in the '80s and have proven themselves to be very watchable in the decades since. That doesn't necessarily mean that the films have aged well—on the contrary, a lot of these are problematic when looked at with the benefit of hindsight. Which doesn't mean you can't watch these movies, per se, but that it's important to look at them through an analytical lens. We've added content warnings throughout to identify relevant subjects.
Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick star in this romantic fantasy that, surprisingly, has no relation to 2018’s Lady Bird. Set in medieval France, LadyHawke tells the story of a pickpocket and a knight on a journey to find love and defeat evil.
CW: suicide, classism. "A group of prep school boys learn to love poetry" doesn't sound like the most enthralling premise for a movie, but when they're taught that love by an exuberant Robin Williams, playing their boarding school's new English teacher John Keating, it's easy to understand why they were willing to do anything to get into the titular club. O Captain! My Captain!
CW: mental illness, suicide. Long before Robert Pattinson, Ben Affleck, or Christian Bale ever set foot in the Batcave, Michael Keaton took on the role of the Caped Crusader. This take on the famous superhero, also starring Jack Nicholson as a particularly unhinged Joker, went on to become the fourth highest-grossing film of the entire decade.
CW: disability, mental illness, ableism. This story of Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) embarking on an eye-opening road trip with Raymond, the older autistic brother he never knew he had (played by Dustin Hoffman), ended up taking home half of the eight Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hoffman.
CW: misogyny, racial slur. Diane Keaton plays a New York businesswoman who is forced to drop everything (job and relationship included) when an unexpected death leaves her the caretaker of a baby girl. Directed by Nancy Myers (who went on to make The Parent Trap, The Holiday, and The Intern), Baby Boom has all the makings of a classic ‘80s movie: gendered roles, slapstick humor, and shoulder pads.
Long before Twilight or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this comedy-horror film updated vampires for the modern age in an edgy and innovative way.
Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, and Dolly Parton team up in this much-loved comedy drama. Steel Magnolias will make you laugh and cry and is definitely worthy of a re-watch during a nostalgic binge.
CW: misogyny, homophobia, racial slurs, racism. Eddie Murphy as Detroit detective Alex Foley in Beverly Hills Cop made for a classically ’80s (and objectively hilarious) cult favorite. The movie went on to win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture and snagged both Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations.
CW: sexual assault, assault, incest, sexual harassment, racism, misogyny, death. Directed by Steven Speilberg and based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Price-winning novel, The Color Purple had a first-class ensemble (including Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey) and a deeply emotional script. This 1985 production has a complex, ambivalent, but important legacy.
CW: discussion of sexual assault. James L. Brooks's 1987 film told the story of two rival TV reporters and a producer.
Who could watch Alien without being completely and utterly captivated by Sigourney Weaver as badass Ripley?
CW: animal cruelty. Call us wimps, but John Carpenter's The Thing is still frightening to this day.
CW: sexual assault, sexual violence, misogyny, sadomasochism. David Lynch's haunting mystery tells the story of Jeffrey, (Kyle MacLachlan) who finds a severed human ear and is set on a dramatic, terrifying journey.
CW: classism. Matt Damon and Julia Roberts on the same screen? Yes please. Donald Petrie's 1988 hit tells the tale of three teenage girls working at a pizza parlor in Connecticut.
CW: animal cruelty. Who would've thought that the future governor of California would start his career as a sexy, time-traveling assassin? Arnold Schwarzenegger coined the now-famous phrase, "I'll be back," which turned out to be true—The Terminator continued into four sequels and a television series.
CW: sexual violence, reference to suicide. A Nightmare on Elm Street was so damn good that it literally toyed with our perception of dreams versus reality. Doubling as a cinematic trailblazer and an absolutely haunting horror film, the story of Freddy Krueger still lives on in our nightmares today.
CW: assault. It's hard not to root for ultimate-underdog Ralph Macchio, who learns traditional martial arts from a progressive for the time Asian-American character, Mr. Miyagi, to combat the bullies wreaking havoc on his life.
CW: sexual harassment, assault. Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 flick had a star-studded cast, to say the least: Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Diane Lane were all featured in the movie. An iconic coming-of-age drama, The Outsiders birthed the now-famous line, "Stay gold, Ponyboy."
CW: sexual harassment. This slightly dated but classic film offers a truly perfect combination of slapstick revenge comedy, ahead-of-its-time labor demands—flexible hours, equal pay, affordable childcare—and, of course, that incredible cast. And don't even get me started on the ultra-catchy theme song!
CW: sexual harassment. Launching one of the biggest cultural phenoms to date, Saturday Night Live stars Dan Aykroyd and Billy Murray had audiences in stitches as they filmed their adventures in fighting the supernatural. The film was so loved (despite several problems that are now acknowledged) that the franchise spawned multiple sequels, including 2017's all-women rendition starring Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones.
CW: attempted suicide, suicide, assault. Basically the Mean Girls of Generation X, Heathers is the story of popular girls with matching outfits, hair, and first names. The movie became such a comedic classic that it inspired an off-Broadway musical hit years later.
CW: assault, sexual harassment, misogyny, misogynistic language. Although it may be more famous for its on-point soundtrack (how can you deny classics like "Maniac" and "What a Feeling"?), the struggle Jennifer Beals's character faces as a working girl dreaming of making it big is totally relatable to any aspiring dancer today.
CW: misogynistic comments. The strong mother-daughter bond between the two main characters in this film makes it hard not to get emotional, and the incredible performances by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger led to a Best Picture win, among four other Academy Awards.
The '80s brought horror to a new level with Spielberg's Poltergeist. Terrifying is an understatement when it comes to this supernatural-themed, suspense-filled story starring an actress too young to even get into the theater.
CW: homophobic slur, misogyny. The outfits! The hair! Duckie! John Hughes crafted a masterpiece centered around a seemingly too-cool-to-care girl named Andie and her romantic struggles with the popular, rich boy. And like any good, somewhat dated high school movie, it ends with a totally '80s prom scene you have to see to believe.
CW: homophobic slur, mental illness. Rob Reiner's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel brought four teenage boys together for a thrilling, coming-of-age drama.